Learning in a Montessori Environment

A friend of mine has two children (ages 5 and 7) enrolled in a Montessori School. As with most Montessori schools, this one does not issue grades. While my friend does receive a progress report for each child four times a year, it is devoid of the standard A, B, C, D, F grading system. Instead, it reveals which specific skills her children are being introduced to, which they are developing, and in which they have achieved mastery.

My friend revealed that while she is pleased with this progress report system, the rest of her family doesn’t understand it. They ask her questions like, “How do you know how they rate compared to the rest of the class?” and “What’s their motivation to do their work if they don’t get graded?”

Many Montessori schools, including the one my friend’s children attend, have learned that grades are a poor motivating factor. Instead of focusing on grades, schools need to focus on instilling a joy of learning, which is what my friend sees in her children. They dive into a subject because there’s a natural curiosity about it, not because they know they are going to get graded on the topic. As a result, the children seek mastery through quality work because it gives them satisfaction, not because it gives them a grade.

As I write in Discipline Without Stress:

“A quality experience hooks a student on learning. Mastery, of course, requires effort. However, when there is joy in learning, it does not seem like great effort because it feels good—as when a student spends hours on the basketball court working up a sweat while practicing a particular shot. When a person wants to do something, the labor seems incidental. Quality work involves exertion, but it may even seem like fun.” (p. 153)

My friend can attest to this being true, as her children’s teachers often tell her that they have to remind her children several times to stop working on a lesson and to go outside for recess. The children become so engaged in the lesson that their desire to finish it for their own satisfaction overrides their desire to go outside and play.

When this joy of learning gets instilled in children at an early age, they tend to develop into happy and productive lifelong learners.